boston dynamics big dog

Update, May 28: Boston Dynamics is close to becoming part of Toyota, according to a new report from Tech Insider. The car manufacturer wants to integrate Boston Dynamics into its newly formed Toyota Research Institute, a unit that pursues AI and robotics advancements. The deal has not been signed yet, but according to one source quoted by Tech Insider, the “ink is nearly dry.” Toyota Research Institute is already home to several high profile members of Google’s robotics initiative, including James Kuffner, who spearheaded Google’s robotics unit together with Android father Andy Rubin.

Original post, March 17: Boston Dynamics is the company behind pretty much all of the scary robot videos on YouTube you’ve had nightmares about. But despite the company officially making us all feel like Terminator 2: Judgement Day is just around the corner, Alphabet Inc. has reportedly put the company up for sale because it has been deemed unlikely to produce a marketable product in the next few years.

Bloomberg reports that the reshuffle into Alphabet Inc. apparently has the mucky-mucks at Google putting its various holdings under the microscope and assessing their likelihood of generating “real revenue” in the next few years.

Boston Dynamics certainly has huge potential, from military to government to corporate and domestic applications. But it looks like all that is just a little too far in the future for Alphabet’s new focus on immediate returns. It’s a way less sexy business outlook compared to Google’s famed “moonshots”, especially when you consider the robotics division of Boston Dynamics is now housed under X, Google’s infamous moonshot factory.

The Boston Dynamics story at Google

Under Andy Rubin’s direction, Google bought Boston Dynamics back in 2013 for $500 million dollars – not a bad investment when you think of how close the company is to to the cutting edge of robotics. But following Andy Rubin’s departure one year later, Boston Dynamics found itself without a leader and consequent conduit into Google’s broader ecosystem.

Tensions flared and everyone started to feel the friction when the robotics division of Boston Dynamics wasn’t able to produce a plan for a marketable product to be released in the next few years. Google had reportedly demanded this to help offset the costs of the larger-scale, long-term projects the team might need another decade to complete.

Eventually the robotics team was absorbed into Google[x] under Astro Teller and threatened with re-assignment “if robotics aren’t the practical solution to problems that Google was trying to solve”. I’ve spoken with Teller in the past and he has assured me the secret to Google[x]’s success is to fail fast and move on.

The problem is that Boston Dynamics itself wasn’t taken under Google[x]’s wing and its refusal to play ball has resulted in it being put up for sale. Right now it looks like the most likely suspects for purchasing the company are Amazon or the Toyota Research Institute. While Google may be backing off robotics in the short term, remember that the robotics engineers are staying at Google.

What do you think of this decision? Do you see Google coming back to robots eventually?